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Chuck Forsman is shaking things up.
The small press cartoonist (and proprietor of Oily Comics), who won acclaim for his dual teen angst sagas The End of the Fucking World (aka TEOTFW) and Celebrated Summer, has moved away both from the previous slice-of-life subject matter and his simplified art style with his latest ongoing series Revenger. Dripping with tension and more than a little violence, this no-holds-barred action comic stars an Equalizer-esque young woman who attempts to help people in need, often with her fists or other weapons, in a post-apocalyptic America.
Curious over this new direction in style and content, I contacted Forsman.
Robot 6: In the coda to the comic you talk about Revenger taking about a year to produce and going through a lot of stops and starts. Can you walk me through the process and why it proved to be difficult for you?
Chuck Forsman: Well, I was going through a period of self-reflection and doubt. 2013 ended with my second book that year being released by Fantagraphics. I had also started a small little publishing company, Oily Comics. Basically, I had achieved many of the goals that I had been working towards for while. I’m sure there was a certain amount of, “now what?” going on in my head. But I think the majority was I think I was bored with the mode I was working in. And Revenger became the symbol of something new and different for me. It was a challenge. One that I gave up on a bunch of times but for many reasons I kept pulling it back out and giving it another shot.
Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror) is a tongue-in-cheek action comic about a highly skilled government operator who takes on a group of … oh, what does it really matter who the bad guys are? Bottom line, they’re bad guys, and O.M.W.O.T. is more than happy to chop, kick, shoot and otherwise eradicate them from existence. As Fantagraphics puts it:
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
Jack Kirby’s work from the early 1960s on is so indelible and influential that the enormous amount of work he did with Joe Simon in the years prior often seems to take a back seat to his more recent work. As a result, it often appears as though several chapters in our appreciation of one Kirby’s work and career are missing.
Thankfully, effort has been made lately to rectify that perception. Publishers like Titan Books and Fantagraphics have made an attempt to get some of these pre-code comics under readers’ noses.
Now Abrams has jumped into the ring with The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio, a lavish, oversize compendium of stories and art (scanned from the original pages) offered in stores in time for the holiday rush.
By the way, the emphasis in that title should firmly be on the word studio. For while Simon and Kirby’s art is well-represented here, editor Mark Evanier takes considerable care in highlighting stories by other artists who worked for the studio, most notably one Bill Draut, a clean-lined Milton Caniff-styled cartoonist whose work I was heretofore unaware of (other featured artists include Angelo Torres, George Tuska and Mort Meskin).
Zak Sally’s Recidivist IV was one of the most difficult comics I’ve ever read. I don’t mean that in an aesthetic or emotional or abstract sense. I mean it was physically difficult to read, as I frequently had to hold the comic at odd angles, or directly up against sunlight to be able to read certain sentences.
That’s entirely intentional. Sally uses bright metallic inks, intricate, overlapping patterns and more to make the type difficult to discern, if not as downright enigmatic as the accompanying images. Containing short stories (although they feel more like essays or simple declarations at times) about characters at life-altering crossroads, and accompanied with a CD of drone music, Recidivist IV is generally what you thinks of when you hear the phrase “a challenging work.” As he noted on his blog, it certainly isn’t a “passive, easy reading experience.”
It might also be one of the best comics of 2014, smart and elegant and breathtaking, a comic that forces you to engage with it but rewards you with its tightrope act as the reading experience and the content cohere into a breathtaking whole.
Get Over It
by Corrine Mucha
Secret Acres, 104 pages, $15
It’s my strong suspicion that Mucha’s memoir, about her attempts to cope following the breakup of a long-term relationship, will largely be appreciated by the under-30 crowd. I’m not saying that older readers, especially those who have been through the mill a few times, will dismiss her story or be unsympathetic as she relates her woes, but I do expect them to regard some of Mucha’s realizations and self-help profundities with a shrug and a muttered, “So what else is new?”
At a certain point in your life (usually past your 20s), you come to understand the importance of allowing yourself to properly mourn the death of a relationship, either through simple contemplation or hard-fought experience. There’s nothing thematically in Get Over It that a certain segment of the population doesn’t already know (even if they have trouble adhering to that wisdom).
As is usually the case, the 2014 Small Press Expo was a whirlwind affair, full of panels, hurried greetings, bumping into people while walking along the aisles and comics, comics, comics everywhere you looked.
Both Brigid Alverson and I were there, although we never actually managed to meet up (while SPX isn’t a large show by national standards, it’s still easy to miss people). Rather than write separate stories, we thought it might be fun to post a back-and-forth dialogue, similar to our MoCCA report from a few years back. Be sure also to check out Brigid’s great photos from the Ignatz Awards if you haven’t already done so.
Chris Mautner: How many times have you been to SPX before this, Brigid? What’s your previous experience with this particular convention been like?
Brigid Alverson: This was actually my first SPX, which surprised a lot of people — clearly this is a show that you come back to over and over. I have been going to MoCCA and TCAF for the past couple of years, so I’m familiar with a lot of the artists and the work. I felt there was more commingling at SPX, partly because everyone is staying in the same hotel where the show is, and also because the organizers made the effort — there was a meet-‘n’-greet for exhibitors and press the evening before the show, and the Ignatz Awards/mock wedding on Saturday. Maybe because of that, I really got a sense of community from this show.
Small Press Expo, that magical indie-comics festival that takes place each autumn in Bethesda, Maryland, is upon us once again. The show is traditionally thronged with noteworthy cartoonists and graphic novels, and this year proves no different, with folks like Emily Carroll, Jules Feiffer, Renee French, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Raina Telgemeier and Brandon Graham scheduled to attend.
While the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel isn’t a labyrinthine structure that requires mapmaking skills to traverse, if this is your first time at the show, or if it’s been awhile since you last attended, you might be looking for some helpful advice on how to navigate it. Here then are six suggestions on how to get the most out of your SPX experience.
1. Get there early. The first thing you can expect to see when you enter the hotel is a long entrance line that snakes around the hallway. While it tends to move (somewhat) quickly, if you’re not a fan of standing in line I’d recommend getting there early. Or at least preparing yourself to spend some downtime waiting for your turn (which, honestly, you’re going to do if you want to get a book signed by, say, Jules Feiffer).
I have a good deal of admiration and respect for the author and professor David Ball, so when he tweets me that he’s editing a new series of books to be published by the University Press of Mississippi, I snap to attention.
And, indeed he is. Modeled on a book he co-edited with Martha Kuhlman, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking, Critical Approaches to Comics Artists will be an ongoing series, each volume collecting essays from a variety of scholars on a particular cartoonist. The plan is to release two books a year, with the first book on Joe Sacco coming out in 2015. Future volumes will focus on Herge, Charles Schulz and George Herriman.
Actually, this is apparently rather old news, as Ball blogged about this stuff more than a year ago. Still, it was news to me, so I took the opportunity to quiz him over email about this series and his hopes for it.
Ryan Sands is no stranger to the world of comics. Many comics fans – especially those drawn to the strange and wacky – no doubt came across the Same Hat blog and Tumblr he created with Evan Hayden. In addition, he has worked as a translator on such marvelous manga as Tokyo Zombie and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, and more recently, as a publisher, releasing the Electric Ant Zine and (with Michael DeForge) three issues of the acclaimed sex-themed anthology Thickness.
Last year Sands fully immersed himself in publisher waters with the creation of the imprint Youth in Decline, whose flagship series Frontier is a rotating anthology similar to DC’s Solo series in concept, highlighting unique and little-known cartoonists and illustrators.
Four issues of Frontier have been released thus far, showcasing Uno Moralez, Hellen Jo, Sascha Hommer and Ping Zhu. With his publishing venture off and running, I thought this might make for a good time to talk with Sands about his company, his plans for the future and just how he ended up here in the first place.
It seems like the stuff of legend: Wally Wood – the Wally Wood, of EC and MAD fame, fed up with being creatively and financially stifled by the oppressive corporate comics business model, discovers the then-nascent world of fanzines, and inspiration strikes. “Maybe I could create one of these fanzines for me and my friends,” Wood thinks. “We could publish any sort of work we wanted, with no editorial restrictions or code to worry about! Best of all, we’d own it!”
Bear in mind, this was 1966, a good two years or so before the first issue of Zap Comix set the still-budding world of underground comics on fire. The mere notion of comics as any sort of medium for self-expression at the time must have been something that drew wide-eyed stares. But while Wood was certainly no hippie, there’s little doubt he saw this as an opportunity to produce work that he and his friends really cared about.
And what a list of friends. Throughout its run, Witzend collected an impressive roster that included creators like Jim Steranko, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, Art Spiegelman (some of his first published work), Don Martin (yes, that Don Martin), Alex Toth, P. Craig Russell, Mike Zeck and Joe Staton.
We’re a little more than halfway through the year, which makes it the perfect time to pause and separate the truly exemplary comics from the merely mediocre.
Below are six of my favorite comics of the year thus far. Many of them will likely make their way into my final “best of 2014″ list come December, but I reserve the right to completely change my mind between now and then.
In any case, let me know what comics you’ve enjoyed reading thus far (or how crazy I am for forgetting Graphic Novel X) in the comments section.
For many fans and historians, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby was largely regarded as the best comic strip you never read. Or, if you knew where to look, the best comic you only read a few snatches of.
All that changed last year when Fantagraphics began collecting the strip in a series of handsome volumes, designed by Dan Clowes and edited by Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel, author of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.
The second volume just arrived in stores this week, which made it seem like the perfect opportunity to talk to Nel and Reynolds a bit about Barnaby, what makes it so swell, its legacy, and more. I want to thank them for their time and patience, especially considering this whole thing took place over the Internet.
Having detailed his love affair with Queen, delved into the secret lives of boy scouts and even produced the odd superhero comic, Mike Dawson has released his most ambitious book yet, the politically and socially charged Angie Bongiolatti.
Set only a few months after 9/11, the book centers around a group of twentysomethings, more or less fresh out of college, working at an aspiring dot-com in the Big Apple and trying to figure out what exactly they want to do with their lives. Like satellites, many of them seem to rotate to one degree or another around the titular character, an attractive young woman who is driven by her left-wing political beliefs and trying to ascertain how to adhere to them in the workaday world.
Far from being some sort of one-sided political screed however, Bongiolatti asks questions about the effectiveness of any political movement, no matter how noble, and how best to affect change in the world while still being able to maneuver through it effectively.
I talked with Dawson over email the last few weeks about the book, its themes, politics and the joys of working with a large cast of characters.
Angie Bongiolatti is set within a very specific place and time, New York immediately after 9/11. What made you decide to set your story during this period rather than, say, during the Iraq War or during the Bush/Gore election. Or later?
The Bush/Gore election was the last time in my life when I was completely and blissfully unaware of current events and had no opinion on what was happening. I had no television set at the time, the Internet wasn’t yet an all-consuming focal point of my life, and plus I was 25 years old, and just didn’t care about the world outside of my own social life.
The period after 9/11 was that short window in time where the rest of the world was more or less on America’s “side” when it came to their response. To be against the invasion of Afghanistan was a minority position to take. The invasion seemed legitimate. I remember there were some voices of dissent at the time – David Rees’ Get Your War On being this great voice screaming into the roaring winds of war. I loved that comic. It might have been the first webcomic I experienced in real time.
A weiner dog with butterfly-esque wings that’s a master mechanic. A space-faring Amazonian warrior who’s handy with a blade. A pig-faced, hard-living bounty hunter. Mad scientists with really odd-shaped glasses. These are just some of the characters and elements that make up Twelve Gems, Lane Milburn’s ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek sci-fi opera.
Drawing on classic adventure role-playing games, fantasy films and manga, Gems finds the first three aforementioned characters banding together at the request of a mysterious Dr. Z to find the titular gems for purposes unkown (at least initially). Along the way they come across all manner of strange creatures, hostile planets, old foes and metaphysical craziness. Milburn lets his imagination run rampant throughout the book, resulting in a fast-paced, crazed graphic novel full of scenes that could easily be blown up onto a black velvet poster. Plus it’s a lot of fun to boot.
I recently chatted with Milburn about the new book, its inception and his work with the Closed Caption Comics group.
“Is Noah Van Sciver the finest cartoonist of his generation?”
That’s the question I posed a few months ago on this very blog. Anyone who’s been following his work, whether via his one-man, self-published anthology Blammo, various minicomics like The Death of Elijah Lovejoy or his critically acclaimed graphic novel about Abraham Lincoln The Hypo would likely be asking something similar. While there is plenty of competition among Van Sciver’s peers for the “finest cartoonist” title, over the past few years he’s consistently made a case for wearing that crown by methodically building a body of work that was engaging, funny, featured sharply detailed characters and encompassed a variety of genres.
Now AdHouse has published Youth Is Wasted, a collection of short stories taken from Blammo, and various other anthologies. It’s a good introduction to Van Sciver’s world for newcomers, as well as a reminder to Hypo readers that he’s not some one-hit wonder.
In honor of the book’s release, I recently chatted with Van Sciver about the new book, as well as his new mini from Oily Comics, The Lizard Laughed.